The Creation Mandate is the foundation of Christian education. Also known as the Cultural or Dominion Mandate, it implies both the command to educate and the scope of the command.
What is the Creation Mandate?
According to Wolters, the creation account describes three levels of the creation: 1) Creatio ex nihilo: God created the world out of nothing, 2) Creatio secunda: God created Laws of nature that govern the development of our physical reality. In this way God governs his creation immediately, or directly. 3) Creatio tertia: God governs his creation mediately, or indirectly, through the involvement of human responsibility (Wolters, p. 36). Under this third facet of the creation account falls what we know as as the Creation Mandate (Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 8:3-9). From it we deduce that God created man to be the governor and developer of the creation:
“Just as a human sovereign does certain things himself, but gives orders to his subordinates for other things, so with God himself. He put the planets in their orbits, makes the seasons come and go at the proper time, makes seeds grow and animals reproduce, but entrusts to mankind the tasks of making tools, doing justice, producing art, and pursuing scholarship. In other words, God’s rule of law is immediate in the nonhuman realm but mediate in culture and society. In the human realm men and women become coworkers with God; as creatures made in God’s image, they too have a kind of lordship over the earth, are God’s viceroys in creation” (p. 14).
How does the Creation Mandate Imply the Command to Educate?
The Creation Mandate implies the command to educate by establishing that education is a part of the structure of creation. The Creation Mandate is “societal and cultural in nature,” i.e., having to do with the substance of civilization (Wolters, p. 36). Just as laws of physics govern the physical realm, certain immaterial expectations govern the created structures of civilization. These expectations are known as “norms.” Scientists adduce nature’s material laws by the scientific method. God’s created norms for society and culture are determined through means such as general revelation, the conscience, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit (Graham, pp. 24-28). The most obvious of these immaterial norms are applied in the creation structures of government, science and medicine, leisure and entertainment, art and literature, among others. These normative structures form the building blocks of maturing civilizations. That education is also a normative structure seems self-evident: “Education, therefore, is fundamental to humanity’s task of developing and conserving this created order” (Van Dyk, n.d.). Without a means for preparing humanity to apply God's norms within these structures of the created order, the task of the Creation Mandate cannot be accomplished.
Some might argue that the process of identifying creational structures and norms is subjective and debatable. Conceding this should “lead us to humility and dependence on God in trying to do our cultural work” (Graham, p. 26). But we should not assume we are left without strong guidance for discerning creation’s normative structures. A careful, biblically informed study of the development of civilization should reveal the broad outlines of God’s creational structures. God's Word, the Holy Spirit, and wisdom can reveal the norms by which they are to be directed. “The fundamental knowability of the creation order is the basis of all human understanding, both in science and in every day life” (Wolters, pp. 28-29).
Graham, D. L. (2003). Teaching redemptively: Bringing grace and truth into your classroom. Colorado Springs: Purposeful Publications.
Van Dyk, J. (n.d.). “Chapter II: Context.” Notes distributed in the class Foundations for Curriculum Development. Covenant College, 2002.
Wolters, A. (1985). Creation regained: Biblical basics for a reformational worldview. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.